Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 30, 2015

2015.11.29 “How’s Your Posture?” – Luke 21: 25 – 36

Central United Methodist Church
How’s Your Posture?
Rev. David L. Haley
Luke 21: 25 – 36
November 29th, 2015

Supermoon & Ecliplse

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“Supermoon and Eclipse.” Image by Doug Jones via Flickr;  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21: 25 – 36, the New Revised Standard Version

 

How your posture; the alignment of your head and spine? Sit up straight in that pew; no slouching! How’s YOUR posture holding up?

For most of my life, I thought of my grandfather as a tall man; he certainly was taller than I was. But in his later years, as he approached 90, he used to stand by me and say, “David, you’ve grown up to be a tall man.” I never had the heart to tell him it was not that I had grown, but that he had shrunk. Now, as I grow older, I understand. It seems every time I go to my Dr. for a physical, I’ve lost an inch or two in height. (So I’ve decided to quit going to the Dr.) Do you know that starting at about age 40, we lose about a half-inch per decade? So we got that to look forward to; guess the NBA is out for those of us growing older.

While some of the changes to our posture are pathological, like back injuries, most are part of the natural aging process, in conjunction with that thing we call “gravity.” Muscles weaken, bones curve, spinal discs deteriorate. Ever noticed how you have to adjust that rear view mirror in your car again from morning to evening, even though your seat hasn’t changed?

But as we also know, not all of the reasons for our sagging spines are physical; some are psychological. Many of us never learn to practice good posture because our parents never told us, “Stand up straight and quit slumping!” Who of us have not known teenagers – maybe been teenagers – who grew faster and taller than our friends, and therefore slouched, so as to appear not to appear taller. And now that we spend more time slouched over iPhones and computer screens from an early age, one can only wonder what effect that is going to have.

Another psychological pressure that affects our posture is the burden of our lives. When we anxious or depressed, it shows on our faces and especially in our posture. I remember reading a book about clergy self-care years ago that I’ve never forgotten, because it said, “If every time we go to church we look like we are going to a funeral – head down and back slumped – not only are we not doing ourselves any favors but we are probably not helping our parishioners very much either.” So now when I walk to church, I try to remember that, and walk upright, even though as I age that gets more and more difficult.

What I’m getting at is this: if our posture can be affected by our mental state and the anxiety and burdens we carry around with us – like Atlas holding up the world – then many of us these days are likely walking around with poor posture.

Of late, the news has not been good, has it? Wars, refugees, the Paris bombings, shootings, and then last week the release of the video in Chicago of the execution (I don’t know what else you could call it?) of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer. But then there is the worrisome background that it took the city 400 days to release the video, and then only under court order, and that Cook County attorney Anita Alvarez only announced the murder indictment the day the video was released, even though the City had already paid the family a $5 million dollar settlement, with the stipulation that the video never be released. Did you know that over the last ten years, the City of Chicago has paid a half billion dollars to victims of police brutality? It’s enough to make you wonder what was in those videos, if they existed? Old ways change hard. But it’s enough to make all of us walk bent over, shaking our heads in sorrow and disgust.

Amidst difficult times, whether in our lives or in the world, what should our posture be, especially as Christians and the People of God? The answer to this question is provided for us in today’s Gospel.

When we turn to the Gospel and its apocalyptic imagery, there may be some here this morning who will be disappointed. I mean, here we are in the 4th Sunday of extended Advent, just under a month away from Christmas, and still there is no Baby Jesus. Indeed, in this morning’s Gospel we do not encounter the sweet baby Jesus people wait for, but the stern, adult Jesus, picturing the whole world being shaken and turned upside down.  Here there are no “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style,” but rather Jesus talking about ominous signs and portents: “distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves,” the powers even of the heavens to be “shaken” and people fainting “from fear and foreboding.”

And, haven’t we already heard this already, just two weeks ago, from Mark’s Gospel? How Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem, marveling at Herod’s Temple, when Jesus said it would all come down, and his disciples asked, “When would that be?”

If you remember, when we read Jesus’ words from Mark’s Gospel, it is unclear whether Mark wrote before or after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, by the Romans. But when we read Luke – who drew upon Mark’s Gospel – it’s almost certain Luke is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem. What difference does this make? There are at least two subtle shifts. One, Luke seems to go beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of ALL things.  It’s like Luke is saying, “When you see these things, as bad as they are: “Get used to it; it only goes downhill from there.’” Secondly, Luke has shifted his question from Mark’s “When will these things be?” to – given that they’re already happened – “How shall we live in the meantime?”

Given the times we live in, this is still an appropriate question to ask. How do we live in the interim between the troubles that we see, and the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, obviously not here yet; certainly not in the city of Chicago.

While thankfully we have never experienced our cities destroyed, our places of worship desecrated, and families and friends killed as they did then and many have since, in some ways, the news has never been as bad as now. At least, in the ancient world, news traveled slowly. Now, news is global and instantaneous: if there is a terrorist attack in Mali or Paris, not only do we know it, we experience it through video. When a refugee toddler drowns on a beach in Turkey, we see the image. When a shooter opens up at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, we grief lives lost. When a 17 year-old is killed on Chicago’s south side, we (at last) see the video, and are allowed to draw our own conclusions. But the question is, not whether we can and should see it, the question becomes what are do we do? And that brings us back to patterns of posture.

Even in this Gospel, there are two possible postures. One is to lay down and give up, to let our shoulders slump, to shake our heads in disgust, to anesthetize ourselves, whether through shopping or drinking or drugs, and do nothing. Jesus put it this way:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

It would be easy to go that route, wouldn’t it? To entertain ourselves with modern forms of “bread and circuses” and to anesthetize ourselves with food and drugs and alcohol. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die, and meanwhile, others do, sometimes unjustly.

It would be easy to take that path, but thank God, not everyone does. Did you know that dashcam video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting only saw the light of day because of the persistent efforts of two independent journalists and an attorney? Chicago’s mainstream media barely flinched when police and union officials claimed Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot after lunging at officers with a knife. But journalists Jamie Kalven and Brandon Smith, and University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, dutifully dug in. For months, they looked for hard evidence about what happened the night of Oct. 20, 2014, interviewing witnesses, until they found out about the existence of the dashcam video, which they then went after. If they had not done that, it’s doubtful anything more would ever have happened, certainly not the indictment of the first on-duty Chicago police officer in 35 years for 1st degree murder.

No, Jesus didn’t say, “When you see these things, “Be depressed,” or “shake your head in disgust,” or “lay down and give up.” What he said was, “When you see these things, ‘Stand up straight and raise your heads, for your redemption draws near.’”

People of God, hard times and bad times are not a time to lay down in defeat or slump in fear, but a time to stand up straight, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Sometimes – not every time – it is a sign that the old order is dying away and a new order is being born. Exactly what Jesus is saying here is that it is at just such times that the possibility of God’s kingdom of love, peace, and justice comes near.

So what might this posture of standing up straight mean for us, dear people? When people are afraid to be out during the holidays for fear of terrorist attack, we can remind each other to stand up straight and raise our heads, refusing to be terrorized.

When we are too afraid to admit to our country those seeking a safe home for fear they may be terrorists, we can remind each other to stand up straight and raise our heads, refusing to turn our back on our deepest values.

When the violence of city streets push us to abandon civil rights and protection for all people regardless of their race or religion or ethnicity, we can remind each other to stand up and raise our heads, remembering that to God and therefore to God’s people, black lives and Muslim lives and Syrian lives and all lives matter.

Because – in reality – it’s not violence that is the greatest threat to us today, but fear. Fear that drives us to forget who we are, to see people in need as the enemy, and to place security and comfort above meeting the basic needs of those in distress. Fear is more dangerous than violence because fear can lead us to forget our deepest identity and betray our most cherished values.

As Jesus’ words make clear, rather than being fearful people, we are to be a hopeful people. This is the hope that rings throughout Scripture, each time a biblical character announces that summary of the Gospel, “Do not fear.” This is the hope that is the hallmark of Christian community, making us communities of light and hope, courage and confidence, that welcome all those who struggle with fear and darkness. This is the hope we celebrate even in this Gospel reading of gloom and doom, where Jesus reminds us he is the Lord of history, and, because we trust that he will in time bring all things to a good end, we can in the meantime stand together in courage and compassion and treat all persons with the love of God we have known in Christ. (Thanks to David Lose, “Stand Up Straight and Raise Your Heads, “In the Meantime,” Nov. 23, 2015)

When I lived in Chicago, there was an elderly German man who lived down the street from me named Frank. Though Frank was in his eighties, he had excellent posture. He maintained this posture by walking daily, sometimes as far as downtown Chicago, a distance of about 7 miles. Though I’m sure Frank is no longer with us, to this day he remains an inspiration to me for his excellent posture in old age.

So stand up straight and raise your heads, dear people; even in trying times, our redemption draws near. May God give us the strength and the courage and the confidence so to do.

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